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Jason Oddy: ‘A is for ….’ at James Hockney and Foyer Galleries, UCA Farnham

In this latest showcasing of his work, the London-based photographer Jason Oddy, continues to explore his interest in the relationship between man and his built environment. Two bodies of recent work are shown alongside each other in this touring exhibition, which both investigate the expressive and symbolic possibilities in the banalities of the structural design of institutional buildings.

It is the very mundanity of subject matter which makes his images seem so enigmatic; the deserted space of, say, a seating area in Bolingbroke Hospital, becomes a soulless vacuum through Oddy’s lens, a place haunted by an oppressive sense of unease.  This mood of bleakness, embodied in the characterless décor and sad scattering of empty chairs waiting for occupants, recurs throughout the collection.  In The Palace of Nations, Geneva, 1999, the sterility of the corridor, illuminated by harsh white strips of light bouncing off shiny walls, could easily be mistaken for that of a prison or hospital, a place of demoralising cheerlessness.  Oddy sees such buildings as spaces of confinement – spaces defined by their capacity to exclude the outside world, or by their importance as hermetic, private places of social importance.

This is perhaps best demonstrated by the images of curtained windows, their significance lying in the vague outlines of external buildings which can be made out through the fabric veil.  Are these outlines intended to represent the possibilities of ‘outside’, or even perhaps the psychological sense of containment induced by a certain kind of utilitarian architectural design? On a different note, each detail of the highly structured and polished scene of an immaculate meeting room in The Pentagon, Washington (2003) offers a crushing impression of officialdom – especially with the pencils lying poised, expectantly, in perfect alignment on clean note books at each place.

Such careful attention to structural repetition is typical of Oddy’s sensitivity to rectilinear relationships and proportions – this focus on metric rigidity strengthens the dehumanisation of his images.  He concerns himself with the intricate patterns of interior design to the extent that even the arrangement of plug sockets can afford a kind of formal precision that translates into a highly polished image.

The second, much smaller, part of the exhibition focuses on architecture in post-colonial Algiers built by the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer shortly after Algeria gained independence. Oddy introduces the red and green of Algeria’s flag into his images, toying with their symbolic significance as statements of the country’s liberation.

This intriguing body of photographs investigates how the aesthetic and functional nature of architectural design – and in particular its overlooked, mundane features – can induce a particular state of mind and specific way of human behaviour.

Until 13 March, the exhibition is located in the James Hockey Galley of the University of the Creative Arts’s Farnham campus. It will then tour to the University of Hertfordshire Gallery, Hatfield and Smith’s Row, Bury St Edmunds in 2014.

Rachel Coombes

Jason Oddy: ‘A is for ….’, 2 February until 13 March. James Hockney and Foyer Galleries, UCA Farnham, Falkner Road, Farnham, Surrey, GU9 7DS. www.ucreative.ac.uk

Credits:

1. Jason Oddy, Untitled, Bolingbroke, 2010. © Jason Oddy
2. Jason Oddy, Playas, Mexico, 2004. © Jason Oddy
3. Jason Oddy, Untitled, The Pentagon, 2003. © Jason Oddy
4. Jason Oddy, Untitled, Palace of Nations, 1999. © Jason Oddy

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